Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This Week In Space with Miles O'Brien

"The International Space Station gets a room with a view like no other - many wish NASA had as clear a view of what is next in space. "This Week in Space" talks to the exiled president of the "Constellation Nation" – former NASA boss Mike Griffin – who equates the Obama decision to Richard Nixon's cancellation of Apollo – only worse. And we hear from a leading space entrepreneur – Eric Anderson of Space Adventures - who says the Obama plan is "brilliant... a masterstroke of U.S. space policy."

I do not have the expertise nor the experience to comment on the technical merits of the Orion or Aries designs so let’s leave that to the true rocket engineers. However, it does not take a financial or project management genius to figure out that one of the reasons Constellation is behind schedule and over spent is that it has been underfunded from the very beginning. I want to clarify that when I mean “Constellation” I mean the goal of returning and establishing a permanent presence on the moon, and establishing the means to leave LEO for exploration of Mars and near earth asteroids sometime in the future. This has not been the first time  a President has chartered a huge goal only to have Congress not support it. I really believe those who state that Constellation as funded was not sustainable and a return to the moon by 2020 unrealistic. I also agree with those who state that LEO operations should be best left to commercial entities in the future. What concerns me about the cancellation of Constellation is not having a heavy lift capability in the near future.

Now listen closely to Eric Anderson. Rewind and listen to every word he says. What he says makes complete sense. It has been almost 49 years since Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 flight. Since then NASA has done an amazing job in robotic exploration of the solar system, of landing 12 American’s on the moon, building a fleet of Space Shuttles and constructing the International Space Station. How could anyone not be proud of all those achievements? Having said that, human spaceflight today is still a government owned operation and spaceflight is exclusive to a few individuals selected every few years who may get a chance to fly perhaps two missions in their entire career. I don’t know about all of you, but this is certainly not my vision of a human spaceflight program. I agree wholeheartedly with Eric Anderson and he articulates my vision better than I can and certainly in a fewer words than I could. It is time to build a commercial spaceflight infrastructure with commercial spacecraft and astronauts, handover LEO operations to these companies when they mature out and prove themselves and allow NASA (and fund them appropriately) to do the really big things. It is time to charter NASA to go beyond LEO and plan and execute missions to near Earth asteroids, Mars and beyond. Now that would be quite exciting and rejuvenating.

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